Jesus Cuellar and Abner Mares have never met in the ring heading into their 126-pound title bout. But there’s going to be a lot of familiarity Saturday night when it comes to their corners.
Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) is defending the world title he earned under the tutelage of trainer Robert Garcia, who was dismissed by the champ last year and began working with Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) in November 2015.
That alone would’ve made Saturday’s title showdown at the Galen Center in Los Angeles (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) all the more intriguing. But the plot thickened this summer when Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach began working with Cuellar.
This will be the fourth time that Garcia and Roach will pit fighters against each other in world title bouts, with Roach holding a 2-1 edge in their past meetings.
“It adds flavor being our fourth time in opposite corners for big fights,” Garcia says. “Freddie's really good with adjustments in game plan and strategy. It gives me incentive competing against someone who's been the best for many years and who’s coaching a champion I coached.”
Cuellar, who weighed in Friday at 124 pounds, and Mares, who hit the scale at 126, were originally scheduled to fight June 25 in New York, but the bout was canceled when the state’s athletic commission would not license Mares because of eye-related issues.
It was just a few days later when Cuellar’s new trainer, Juan Manuel Ledesma, had to return to Argentina on other business, and the champ secured the services of the Los Angeles-based Roach.
When the California State Athletic Commission granted Mares clearance to fight in October, the bout with Cuellar was officially back on. And nobody was more pleased than the champ, who believes he's at the top of his game.
“Freddie [has been] correcting my mistakes and getting the best out of me. I’m better than ever,” Cuellar says. “Mares is preparing for war. I hope that’s what the fight is. It will prove who has the bigger heart.
"Mares has never faced a fighter like me. This will be his hardest challenge. I’m planning on knocking him out.”
Cuellar, 29, parted ways with Garcia after retaining his title in June 2015 with an eighth-round TKO of Vic Darchinyan, completing a two-year run with the trainer in which the Argentine southpaw went 6-0 and became a world champion.
Cuellar earned a unanimous decision over Jonathan Oquendo in Brooklyn, New York, in his last title defense a year ago with Ledesma in his corner.
“Jesus is a lot stronger than Mares,” Roach says. “[Mares] is very durable and hasn't shown [a suspect chin] yet, but anyone can be knocked out.
“The number of fights [Mares] has gone the distance, he's a solid fighter. But my guy’s a great puncher. We should break him down and knock him down in the late rounds.”
In head-to-head matchups between the trainers, Roach guided Manny Pacquiao to near-shutout, 147-pound decisions over Garcia-led charges Antonio Margarito in November 2010 and Brandon Rios in November 2013.
In August 2009, Garcia led 126-pound world champion Steve Luevano to a title-retaining disqualification victory over Roach-trained Bernabe Concepcion.
Mares, 31, began training with Garcia shortly after losing a majority decision to Leo Santa Cruz in a 126-pound title bout in August 2015, when the fighters combined to throw more than 2,000 punches at Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
Mares, a former three-division world champion who briefly held a 126-pound title in 2013, says he’ll be much smarter in the ring against Cuellar, who is making his sixth title defense.
“The Santa Cruz fight, I learned I need to listen to my corner and not let the crowd get to me. I fought the wrong fight,” Mares says. “Cuellar's a beast—a come-forward fighter with one style: to rely on his power and look for the knockout. If I have to make it a brawl, then I’ll do that.
“This kind of fight brings the best out of me. I have the abilities to be smarter and win by outboxing him.”
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